California Taxi Drivers Allege Misleading Safety Claims in Uber Lawsuit

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 18, 2015

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The ongoing struggle between traditional taxi cabs and private Uber drivers continues with a lawsuit filed by California cab companies against Uber over its “safer than a taxi” advertising campaign.  Alleging that Uber’s statements are false and misleading, cab companies in California have filed a lawsuit seeking damages and an injunction that will force Uber to cancel its aggressive campaigns.

Uber Claims Rides are Safer than a Taxi

As part of its continued efforts to wrangle control of driver services away from taxi companies, Uber Technologies advertises itself as “the safest rides on the road” with claims that riding in and UberX is “safer than a taxi.”  Before hiring drivers, Uber conducts a multi-state and federal criminal background check using third party online background check services that cross-reference an applicant’s social security number with county and federal courthouse records across the country dating back 7 years. 

In addition, the company uses Apps and tracking services to monitor driver performance while providing transparency to Uber customers about ongoing efforts to ensure safe rides.  Completing the safety process, users provide real-time feedback on Uber drivers to allow the company to address unsafe behavior immediately.  For all of these services, Uber publically announces it collects a “safe ride fee” to ensure ongoing safety measures are taken.  Touting its efforts as a comprehensive and innovate safety experience, Uber Technologies focuses significant advertising attention on informing customers that its service is “safer than a taxi.”

According to cab companies, UberX has taken anywhere from 20% – 40% of revenues, in part by advertising that the Uber experience is safer than what a customer would find when riding in a taxi. The California cab companies filing the lawsuit claim this market share gain is ill-gotten because Uber is not safer than a cab, and the complaint argues that taxi companies require more rigorous background checks that make cab rides safer in reality.

Cab Companies Allege Uber’s Safety Claims are Misleading

Bruce Simon, attorney representing the 19 cab companies that have joined the lawsuit against Uber, said of the claim, “The case is really about the continued perpetuation by Uber of the myth that it offers the safest ride on the road.”  Focusing primarily on criminal background checks, the complaint against Uber points out that the company does not conduct checks that are as thorough as the ones performed on potential cab drivers.  In order to drive a cab in California, companies require an electronic fingerprint to supplement traditional criminal record checks.  According to the complaint, the electronic fingerprint allows cab companies to identify past behavior that may not be detectable through Uber’s channels.  Additionally, electronic fingerprint databases cover the entirety of a driver’s adult life while Uber only looks back on 7 years of data.

Beyond background checks, the plaintiff cab companies argue that the ongoing training required of taxi drivers is more reliable than Uber’s.  Further, taxi vehicles are subject to regular inspection that Uber cars are not, suggesting, according to the plaintiffs, that Uber is not safer despite the company’s ongoing campaign promoting the contrary.  With taxi companies and Uber in fierce competition for customers, the cab companies claim that Uber is using false and misleading claims to steal business illegally.

California Cab Drivers Claim Uber uses False Representation to Steal Business

After laying out the case that taxi drivers and vehicles are, in fact, safer than Uber’s driver services, the plaintiff cab companies argue that that Uber has illegally gained business by making false claims regarding safety.  Claiming that the public has been misled by Uber into thinking that it is a safer riding experience, the plaintiffs say that their loss in market share is, in part, due to Uber using knowingly incorrect advertising that is designed to undermine the safety of cab rides in order to discourage riders from using a taxi.  Although cost likely plays a role in Uber’s ascension – Uber rides are up to 40% cheaper – California law allows for plaintiffs in false advertising lawsuits to recover damages even when the alleged behavior only causes part of the financial harm.

The recent lawsuit mirrors one filed by district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2014 that claims Uber misled the public with its statements that it uses an “industry-leading background check” to screen potential drivers.  Uber, which is now worth in excess of $41 billion, has denied the claims as a frivolous attempt by taxi companies to undercut the rapid growth of a new competitor to the market.

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